"I looooove to pray!" she exclaimed as the call to prayer went off during a community function. "I love to spread out my prayer rug and pray, don't you?"
I must not have shared her passion or else her words wouldn't have made such an indelible mark in my memory. I was ten then and loved to watch Smurfs on Saturday mornings and play kickball during recess. But to pray five times a day (salat in Arabic)? That was something I did (or tried to do) because I was supposed to.
Forward to today. Those of us still not feeling the love like we ought to--despite years of going through the motions--need to drastically improve our prayers to attain its true benefits.
Prayers, which were taught to Prophet Muhammad (S) in its current form during his ascension to heaven (miraj in Arabic), are a means for a believer to soar to proximity to God. If they are performed with understanding, concentration and attention, prayers transform an individual and transport him/her to true monotheism and closeness to God's pleasure.
"The prayer is a standard of Islam," the Prophet (S) said. "Whoever loves prayers and observes their timings, limits and methods is a true believer." Indeed, prayers are the most important of the religious acts and if they are accepted by God so will all the other acts of worship and vice versa.
To boost the level of our prayers, we should:
- Pray on time. "If a person prays the obligatory prayers at the beginning of its time and does not attain lofty stations, he should spit in my face," said one esteemed scholar.
- Understand the meanings of its recitations and movements.
- Perform supererogatory prayers in seclusion (away from distractions) and while fresh and alert.
- Detach ourselves (but not abstain) from the material pleasures of this world to avoid flights of ideas during prayers. Those who are able to focus on God throughout the day should have no problem keeping their attention on Him during prayers.
To reinforce the idea that all our acts should lead us to Him, God obligated adherence to prayers even in the most dangerous and fearful of times.
Hussain, the son of Fatima (one of the perfect women of all times), coupled salat and resistance forever on the plains of Kerbala, where he and most male members of the Prophet's (S) family were killed protesting tyranny and corruption.
When apprised of the enemy's plan to attack, Hussain asked his brother to "obtain extension of time from them until tomorrow morning so that tonight we may offer prayers to God. God knows that I love to offer prayers, to recite the Quran, to make supplications and to ask His forgiveness."
"Imam Hussain instilled the Quranic culture and ideology of salat in the entire Ummah [Islamic nation] for all times to come," says scholar Abbas Ayleya.
Eventually, Hussain lost all his comrades and was the last man standing, horrifically wounded from head to toe. But when he heard the call to Asr prayer, he returned his sword to its sheath, slid down from his horse and rested his forehead in prostration on the burning sand.
There he uttered his last words: "O, All Merciful Lord of the Universe, accept the humble sacrifice of Hussain!"